Emilíana Torrini has a voice like the edge of a perfect waterglass, or a single harp note. It is perfectly smooth, like white milk pouring gently into a porcelain dish with barely a ripple. This is her greatest strength. When I was in high school I asked my dad to learn her song “Heartstopper” on guitar so I could sing it, but when I played it for him he laughed and joked that I would never do her justice.
Torrini returns with her angelic sound on Tookah, her sixth album. Over nine tracks, she wanders through soaring synths and funky percussion, never quite settling on anything solid. It’s kind of meditative, which I think was the point. The 36-year-old Emilíana has said that she spent the past three years since her last album, Me and Armini finding her own inner peace and sanctuary after a two-year tour and the birth of her child. She has said that the word “Tookah” itself is an ad-lib she accidentally came up with and somehow spiritually connected to. She now refers to her personal deity as “Tookah.” This is inspiring to me — this album is a manifestation of Emilíana Torrini’s inner peace, built with tools she knows well.
The problem with peace is that it makes me antsy. Tookah starts out soaring right away, with a strong melody and layers and layers of that feathery voice echoing over rattling percussion. But then the melodies begin to waver with “Caterpillar,” a fluttery take-me-away song, and “Autumn Sun,” which is the type of song that gives one the feeling of lying in bed with some regret, staring at a crackled ceiling. She follows these folkier songs with the loungey “Home”; an ode to her native Iceland which sings of snow but feels like swaying hips and somewhere sunny; it’s a welcome change from the guitar twiddles that begin to get old, but the song’s warmth disappears with the opening notes of “Elisabet,” which is a dark but kind tribute to Torrini’s aunt. It is stirring, but feels out of place when the pissed-off pep of the following track, “Animal Games” begins to set in. The track is solid, but feels incomplete, like so many other songs on Tookah. I listened many times to try to understand why, but no statement from the album feels complete besides maybe the first single: “Speed of Dark.” It’s a solid electro-pop song, one that I expect to hear while shopping at girly hip stores in the mall, and Torrini does it well: it is the only song on the album that feels truly over when it ends.
While Torrini’s voice is what carries Tookah through her tranquil inner dreamland, the floaty melodies that trickle over acoustic guitars keep you roped inside of it. Tookah means to be a trip through the surreal universe Torrini has invented to escape her stressors and create her own inner peace, but it isn’t. It’s little glances here and there, but nothing is that captivating, and although her beauty and clarity is effortless it never feels like Emilíana Torrini knows exactly what she wants to say.